Not many sportsmen can boast about not only representing, but also conquering your country in two sports. That is something Curtis Woodhouse can now claim to have achieved.
Beginning his professional football career as a promising central midfielder at Sheffield United in 1997, Woodhouse made the transition to professional boxer a decade later. With a wide array of football league clubs on his CV along with England under 21 caps, the Driffield born pugilist is the current light welterweight boxing champion of Great Britain.
As a footballer, Woodhouse’s talent was doubtless, however his temperament worried a number of top sides keen to recruit the youngster. Despite this, Birmingham City’s bid of £1 million was accepted by Sheffield United In 2001, the year that The Blues sealed promotion to the Premier League via the play offs. It was to prove a pivotal point in the young man’s career, a chance to play at the top flight, a chance to break into the senior England team after four appearances for the Under-21’s.
In just under three years at St Andrews, Woodhouse made 48 appearances, scoring twice, but quickly fell out of favour and a loan move to Rotherham in 2003 indicated the direction his career had taken. Reflecting on this period, Woodhouse denied that a seven figure price tag had any effect on his performances, instead lamenting his initial departure from South Yorkshire; “I just didn’t really enjoy my time at Birmingham, it didn’t really work out too well for me on the football pitch, and it wasn’t the best time in my career. Looking back now, I regret leaving Sheffield United.”
Birmingham City turned down the opportunity to renew Woodhouse’s contract after his three year deal expired, leading to a move to Peterborough United and a drop from top flight Premier League football to a relegation dogfight two divisions lower. After two years as Peterborough captain, Woodhouse joined Hull City, the team he supported as a child, and then headed on to Grimsby Town. It was whilst with The Mariners that Woodhouse made the bold decision to retire from professional football after the League 2 play off final in 2006.
Disillusioned, Woodhouse had, in his own words, “fallen out of love with football”. Despite accusations of poor attitude and a chequered past which had involved accusations of assault, affray and robbery, the decision to quit football to become a professional boxer at the age of 27 came as a shock to many. When I asked Woodhouse about what had drove his decision, his reasons were simple; “My main footballing hero at that time was John Barnes, but the two people that I looked up to most, the two people that really fascinated me more than anyone else, were Nigel Benn and Mike Tyson.”
Spurred on by criticism and public doubt, Woodhouse turned heads during his debut professional fight. Showing real aggression, supreme punching power and a menacing left hook, he defeated Dean Marcantonio on points in 2006. Despite retuning to football with Rushden & Diamonds in the same year, Woodhouse continued to fight and was recently crowned light welterweight boxing champion of Britain; the proud Yorkshireman beating Dave Ryan in Rotherham to take his first title as a professional boxer.
Recalling the fight Woodhouse said: “I’m really delighted to be the champion of my country, I never got the chance to play for the full England senior team but at the minute I’m the champion of my country and that’s a proud moment for me,” Curtis continued: “It’s most definitely my boxing highlight, for me to be crowned the champion of a sport I came late to and one I’m still very inexperienced in means a lot more. “
One aspect of the Curtis Woodhouse story that is not often mentioned is his ability to balance two sports simultaneously. Whilst training to become a professional boxer Curtis returned to the pitch to play part time football, “Simply because when I was boxing I wasn’t as active as I initially got told and promised I would be, so I needed to do something else financially to keep me ticking over. The only thing I’ve ever earned money doing was football, so I went back to that part time really.” This part time football included returning to Grimsby, as well as spells at Mansfield, Harrogate and a management role at Sheffield FC; a job which Woodhouse has only recently departed.
Looking back at his sporting career, Woodhouse believes his biggest regret is not pushing harder at Birmingham and potentially missing out on a possible England call up; “I played for the Under-21’s when I was eighteen, so I was playing in an age group ahead of me so I really thought I was in with a chance. I played in the Under-16’s, then Under-18’s, then Under-21’s, and, you know, I was dreaming one day of playing for the full England team, but it never happened, you know, the bottom line is I wasn’t good enough in the end.”
Nevertheless, according to Woodhouse his greatest achievement so far is his current light welterweight title: “Something I’m most proud of is becoming the English champion, because when I was young I was always naturally gifted at football, I had to work hard at it but when I was young I was always a very good footballer, whereas in boxing I didn’t start off any good at all so I’ve had to work a lot harder at boxing. When you work a lot harder at something you feel like you’ve achieved a lot more.”